Social Life and Technology From the 20’s to the 50’s in America, Research Paper Example
Words: 2677Research Paper
Every turn of events in human history leaves a specific legacy that brings about change that makes it easier for the new era to enter into the scenario of human development. The aspect of Industrial Revolution, its idealisms and the situations that enveloped its condition of being implied as an important part of human history has indeed created several influential events in the lifestyle of the generation of human individuals given birth during the said era. From the point of developing automobiles with the mission of making travel options easier to contend with came the other different points of development that largely affected the life of the people and the way they specifically viewed the society.
Since the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, technology, entertainment and social life have become intertwined in America. The period of the 1920s through the 1950s saw dramatic changes in tools, transportation and the way people worked and played. Automation afforded more time to engage in leisurely activities and, during this period, technologies were developed for entertainment. Originally designed for commercial, scientific or military use, new technologies transformed American social life and the ways in which people played. In some ways, new technologies of the period gave people common social values and promoted conformity. In his paper for Social Forces, William Ogburn points out, “That technology may be an important factor in changing a social institution is well known…” The American social institution changed significantly from an agricultural society to an urban one. This paper examines the impact of emerging technology on entertainment and social life from the 1920’s to the 1950’s in America. The analysis begins with a look at the changes in social life brought about by technology, followed by an analysis of technology’s effect on entertainment. Finally, the conclusion shall present the main points that are discussed in the paper and specifically imply on how such information helps in defining the pattern of human history following the developments that happened during the years of industrial revolution.
From Wheels to Other Doors of Opportunities towards a Modern Society
As a result of the Industrial Revolution, and the technologies that came from it, life was transformed and people had a higher prospect for improving their way of life. Migration to the cities in the 1920s from the rural, agricultural areas was encouraged. More jobs were available and innovations in transportation and housing construction made the cities more attractive. As the transportation technologies improved, people no longer had to walk to work and could spend more time on leisure activities. People began to look for neighborhoods of similar social status. They could commute, first by train and then by automobile, to work while living in the suburbs and enjoying the pleasures of quieter spaces.
Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz write that the economic explosion of the 1920s was, to a large extent, a result of the technologies developed for World War I. Additionally, the automobile help transform American social life. In American Chronicle, Gordon and Gordon comment that the automobile was one of the first technologies that became a national craze. Ford’s Model-T was such a success that by 1927, over 15 million cars were sold. The automobile became an important part of American social life. Not only did the automobile industry cater to the desire of handling transportation options at a much faster pace, it also provided the society a new understanding about status-quo. Along with this, it became evident that as people started to have more time on their hands, they began to get more involved in government and social programs. The Progressive Movement of the early 20th century was successful in addressing corruption, creating building codes and implementing public health measures. As a result of more involvement, corrupt official were replaced with reformers. In his article Social Anthropology of Technology, Brian Pfaffenberger lists other improvements in social life which were specifically boosted because of the mobility of the society. Education, better economic system and better development of areas to be visited in urbanized areas became the highlight of such advancements.
Along with this, it became notable that between the years1920 through the 1950, wages were raised through the help of labor unions, give workers more disposal income. As a result, a demand for amusement and entertainment followed and the growth of mass media began. The content of mass media was influenced by new technology that allowed it to reach large audiences. Technology provided an increasing amount of consumer goods, causing advertising to try to attract the consumer. The advent of credit helped fuel consumer demand. People did not have to save enough money to purchase larger items. Claudia Goldin, et al., writes, “Credit was a new idea that allowed many people to buy cars and appliances without paying directly for them.” The growing advertising industry was quick to associate new products with an elegant and glamorous lifestyle that could be purchased on credit. The availability of more money influenced the ways people traveled. Technology soon provided more travel options influencing the way people would travel for leisure-time activities, making distant destinations possible. The railroads introduced trains for leisure excursions only. Sporting events and fairs were also destinations for the newly mobile consumer. In addition to the changes in social life made possible by new technology, entertainment changed also. The increasing amount of leisure time available to people as a result of technology resulted in more consumer demand for entertainment activities. Technology answered the demand. Lieberman, et al., explains:
Technology made new kinds of events possible such as film screenings and also brought larger audiences to more traditional events. In the 1930s, when concerts could first be supported by sound systems, it also became possible to have performances on large open-air stages or in sports arenas. As radio and, later, television broadcasts hit the air waves, the size of the potential audience expanded even further.
The music industry experienced dramatic changes with the development of new technologies. Sound and music was incorporated into movies to enhance certain scenes. As composers and entertainers experimented with technology, new and novel experiences were created for the consumer. The enjoyment of certain technologies gave the user a chance to identify with the technology. In some cases, the identifying with technology gave some a chance to form social relationships with certain groups. For example, in addition to the entertainment value, during the 1950s, young people rode motorcycles in order to identify with certain groups and to attend concerts and festivals. The growth and expansion of technology continued through the 1930s and 1940s, even as the country experienced the Great Depression and another world war. The consumer explosion of the 1950s was brought on, to a large extent, by the technological developments of World War II.
Skilled advertising, pent-up demand from the war years and the growth of credit culminated in an unprecedented demand for consumer and entertainment products. The wealth of the nation soared during the 1950s and consumers wanted more technology. The amount of products steadily increased during the period as advertisers created a “need” for the new products by presenting an image of a lifestyle that people desired. The music industry was a large benefactor of new technologies. Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman write about the music industry in American Popular Music: The Rock Years:
In the music industry, the electric record player was developed in the 1920s to replace the wind-up machines leading to a spectacular growth in the sale of records. Radio broadcasting began in 1920 when Pittsburgh station KDKA went on the air with a regular schedule of programs. Invented in the 1930s and developed during World War II in the first half of the 1940s, magnetic recording tape was used by German intelligence gatherers to capture and store radio broadcasts.
As technology improved, magnetic tape could be cut and spliced onto reel-to-reel tapes allowing for hours of music on a single tape. High-fidelity recording was developed during World War II and was adopted by the music industry, giving the consumer as better quality sound. In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the LP (long-playing) record that contained about 20 minutes of music on each side. It was a marked improvement over the 78 rpm record which could only hold about four minutes of music. Another technology that would soon spread across America was television. Television was invented in the 1930s, but few Americans owned one until the late 1940s. By the late 1950s, over 90 percent of household owned one. Television became the favorite leisure activity for over half the American population. Before television, people went to the cinema, concerts or sporting events for their entertainment. They usually had to pay for these activities. Television gave the consumer a free way to view shows.
The advertising industry evolved to create promotions that could be seen by millions of people at the same time. Advertisers had a significant influence on the types of programs offered by television stations. At first they pushed for shows like Playhouse 90 and Kraft Television Theater, appealing to a wealthier audience. Soon, programming was targeted for the middle class family and included shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Programs that featured ethnic minorities were rare as the producers tried to appeal to what they perceived as conventional tastes. Herbert Marcuse writes, “Only a very few programs of the time addressed any serious issues. Even nightly news shows in the Fifties only lasted fifteen minutes.” New products were presented to the public during television commercials.
Reflections and Learning
Development is definitely inevitable. It is largely commendable that inventors and explorers during the era of Industrial Revolution never kept their skills, talents and ideas to themselves. Their boldness in presenting their ideas became the foundation of whatever status the current society has. Modernity has been given birth through this era and it was evident how such development started and was fueled with the beginning of developing automobiles to serve as the ‘wheels towards relative social progress.
Kenneth Bruce writes:
The popularity of the automobile also brought immense economic prosperity. One of the major contributions to the prosperity of the 1920s was the construction of roads and highways, which poured fresh public funds into the economy. Automobiles appeared everywhere and were being driven everywhere.
The desire to be able to transfer from one place to another took a vital role in bringing about a sense of urgency on the creation of other aspects of living that made it more satisfying and likely more fulfilling for humans. With such enthusiasm on increased capacity to travel, the exploration of new avenues of progress was heated up thus giving birth to several industries that continue to thrive, multiply and modernize up to present times. It is then deemed that because of the introduction of travelling on wheels, the birth of modern living came to live. People never stopped wanting for more and industries never stopped hoping to create matters that would respond to such desire. Relatively, it was rather evident that the conditions of living improved and the time for progress has been heightened allowing new inventors and creators to spur out while evidently changing the course of human living compared from the historical pages of the past.
There is no doubt that technology dramatically affected the social life of Americans during the 1920s through the 1950s. Transportation and infrastructure improvements improved the lives of Americans. New technology gave people more free time and ways to enjoy it. The entertainment industry was created by and advanced by technology. Many of the advances in technology were as a result of consumers demanding more technology. Technological improvements marked the period and provided the basis for the increase of leisure time. To this, Ogburn writes:
After the Industrial Revolution, people had increased leisure time. The technological development of the railroads and steam engines sprinkled cities quite generally over the land. Finally the automobile and electricity are significant inventions that are creating that great new aggregation of peoples known as the metropolitan community.
The period of the 1920s through the 1950s was a period of great achievement. Writing about technology and sociology, Ogburn offers, “Changes in technology are particularly significant in explaining changes in social institutions…” Most social institutions in America did change. New technology touched just about every fabric of social life, from transportation, communications and leisure activities. American social life and the ways in which Americans were entertained would never be the same. Emerging technology had a significant impact on entertainment and social life from the 1920’s to the 1950’s in America.
To change and progress, there is now stopping; it is expected that as the years come along, new inventions and new discoveries will continue to rise and tickle the minds of human inventors. The fire [defining the inner desire for change and development] which started during the era of industrial revolution continues to provide as much inspiration to individuals trying to continue the campaign towards modernization today. Relatively, it could be understood that the simple desire of being mobile, given the chance to travel from one place to another allowed for the chance of other industries being born and developed during the 1920s towards the 1950s. Furnishing the inventions and adding up to the function of each creation during the said years continues up to this day. Human living has become much easier to contend with. People became more responsive to change and have likely developed the culture of welcoming new avenues of further improving their lives. It could not be denied though that with every point of development, there are always two sides of the coin. Although what has been provided in the discussion presented in this paper is more focused on the positive impact of the developments in the human society, it should not be disregarded that there are also disadvantages to the matter. Nevertheless, even though this is the case, progress need not be ceased. Instead, creating balance on the part of human individuals as to how they accept and utilize new inventions in their lives should be improved thus giving new inventions and new technologies a chance to provide the highest and most acceptable benefit they could give for the human society that they are likely supposed to serve. With this in mind, it should be realized that inventions, although they are many, should be given value depending on how humans need them and not on how humans actually demand for them thus lessening the likely disadvantages of such matters in building up the modern way of human lifestyle.
 William Fielding Ogburn. “Technology and Sociology.” Social Forces, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Oct., 1938), p. 2.
 Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, “The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarily.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 113, No. 3 (August, 1998), p. 501.
 Goldin. p. 636.
 Lois Gordon and Alan Gordon. American Chronicle. Kingsport: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1987, p. 77.
 Ibid. p.731.
 Al Lieberman and Patricia Esgate. The Entertainment Revolution: Bringing the Moguls, the Media, and the Magic to the World. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002, p. 112.
 Herbert Marcuse. Social Implications of Technology. http://www.nyu.edu/projects/nissenbaum/ papers/ Socialimplicationsoftechnology.pdf.
 Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: The Rock Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, 100.
 Ibid. p. 110.
 Kenneth Bruce, YOWSAH! YOWSAH! YOWSAH! The Roaring Twenties. Belmont: Star Publishing Company, 1981, p. 79.
 Ogburn, p. 4.
 Ogburn, p. i.
Bruce, Kenneth. YOWSAH! YOWSAH! YOWSAH! The Roaring Twenties. Belmont: Star Publishing Company, 1981.
Goldin, Claudia and Katz, Lawrence F. “The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarily.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 113, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 693-732.
Gordon, Lois, and Gordon, Alan. American Chronicle. Kingsport: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1987.
Lieberman, Al and Esgate, Patricia. The Entertainment Revolution: Bringing the Moguls, the Media, and the Magic to the World. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002
Marcuse, Herbert. Social Implications of Technology. http://www.nyu.edu/projects/nissenbaum/papers/Socialimplicationsoftechnology.pdf.
Ogburn, William Fielding. “Technology and Sociology.” Social Forces, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Oct.1938).
Pfaffenberger, Bryan. “Social Anthropology of Technology.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 21, (1992), pp. 491-516.
Starr, Larry and Waterman, Christopher. American Popular Music: The Rock Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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